Everybody loves a good fairy tale, right? I’m a self-appointed Disney junkie. I love the happily ever afters and the Prince Charmings, and I even love the idea of kissing a frog that becomes said Prince Charming. Kind of. But I didn’t realize until I met my future spouse how much those movies had influenced my relationship ideas… or ideals if you will. The Little Mermaid is in my top ten. I love the story of Sleeping Beauty, even the being dead part. The concept of falling in love with a “Beast” that turns into a Prince doesn’t seem so far fetched. So when I finally fell for my Prince, I was shocked and chagrined that he didn’t want to pick me fresh flowers every day or sing songs about his undying love for me while frolicking through fields of lavender. Was there something wrong with him? Or, more upsettingly, was there something wrong with me?
I mean, I’d had plenty of relationships before and most of those men were more than willing to make grand gestures to court me. Regardless of the fact that those relationships never lasted, and that most of the men who made the grand gestures also ended up not being so Princely after all was said and done.
See, I realized something as I was entering my mid thirties, that real relationships, the lifelong kind, can’t sustain those Disney happily ever after fireworks. The bar was set too high. The relationship goals unrealistic. The Fairytale Syndrome has left us modern day women confused. I mean, on the one hand I want to do everything that a man can do and be paid the same for it. But, on the other hand, I want to be treated like a Princess, have my man open doors, write me poetry, take out the trash and do all the other manly stuff. Preferably simultaneously.
I’ve always been a romantic and an optimist. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Disney movies I watched as a child and teen helped shape my view of the world. I see the best in people and situations, but still realize there’s a Big Bad Wolf or Wicked Stepmother lurking in the fringes. But the other thing these films taught me, which might be the best lesson of all, is that karma is real and the good guy/girl wins in the end. Even when things seem dark and like they aren’t ever going to get better, heroines like Cinderella kept doing the right thing, Belle was still kind to The Beast even though he was… well… a beast. They never sold out and went to the dark side. Revenge wasn’t a theme of these stories. Virtue, purity and honor were.
I suppose it seems odd that in my ramped liberalism I still believe that virtue and purity are the best end game. But I think the thing people forget in our modern age of glib entitlement is that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Just because it’s perfectly acceptable to Internet shame someone doesn’t make it right. Just because revenge feels good in the moment doesn’t mean it will ultimately bring you happiness.
So, I thank Disney, and all the other fairy tales, for teaching me these values early on. They’ve helped shape the woman that I am, the one that lives bound by a code of ethics. Now, the other side of that coin is my unrealistic expectations of Prince Charming on his white horse to appear and sweep me off my feet. I think that’s the reason why I became a virtual Jerry Seinfeld. Remember, on the show, he was always finding a reason to break up with the person he was dating at the time? For one woman, it was her “man hands,” for another, her annoying laugh. I wouldn’t say my reasons were quite as frivolous, but there was always this underlying expectation of Prince Charming that a real flesh-and-blood man could never live up to.
I fell in love with my best friend unexpectedly at the hardest time of my life. He and I looked at each other one day, and it was instant. Fireworks flew. Animated bubble hearts popped all around us… okay, maybe not literally, but it had all the figurative makings for a fairy tale. Then reality set it. We had to learn to live together without it ending in some sort of murder/ suicide. We had to learn as full-grown adults how to coexist. One of us was more selfish, which caused all sorts of issues and therapy. There was an evil Mother in Law in the mix. Which caused even more problems and therapy. And, through it all, I was still fighting for my idea of Prince Charming. I was perpetually disappointed and critical of what my real-life Prince could offer me.
Now, this did two things: 1. It pulled us apart and made him feel criticized. 2. It made him want to be better, do better for me to fulfill even 10-15 percent of my lofty relationship goals. So, over time, my cynical Prince —who thought romance was just a silly idea — turned into the Prince that plans wedding anniversaries months in advance with the most romantic handmade, traditional gifts a fairy tale Princess could ask for. I would tell you about them, but I’m afraid it would embarrass my husband. He’s still got his cynical side. I suppose I would call him a cross between Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid and the brooding Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. It keeps things interesting.
Anyway, the point isn’t what the gifts were, it’s that my lofty ideals and high self worth that I attribute on some small level to Disney movies never let me settle. And, in turn never, let him settle. Ten years later, we still strive to be the best for each other. When we start to get complacent, Disney never lets us get away with it. So, in the end, in this cynical world where sweet and wholesome is passé, I say watch those Disney films with reckless abandon. And remember that life is what we make it. People give us the respect that we demand. And relationships can be their own versions of Happily Ever After with a hefty dose of reality thrown in. But never ever stop dreaming and wishing. Your Prince may be right around the corner… just maybe not quite how you imagined…